Annan turns to veteran peace broker for tough Kosovo talks
HELSINKI, Nov 1 (AFP) -
Martti Ahtisaari, who on Tuesday was appointed United Nations mediator in negotiations on the final status of Kosovo, has criss-crossed the globe from Asia and Northern Ireland in a tireless crusade for democracy and reconciliation.
In Kosovo, his name was on everyone's lips after he helped push through a peace plan with Slobodan Milosevic's Serbia in 1999.
On March 24 that year, NATO launched air strikes against Belgrade in an attempt to bring an end to the clashes between Serbs and Kosovo Albanians.
After three months of bombing, Russia and the European Union decided to present Milosevic with a peace plan, and determined that then Finnish president Ahtisaari was the man for the job.
He arrived in Belgrade on June 2, and within a few hours managed to convince the Serbian president to accept a deal requiring his troops to leave Kosovo. NATO halted its bombing campaign on June 10.
"I later realized that my role in Belgrade was almost that of a pastor who teaches confirmation classes ... The pastor reviews the Ten Commandments and there are always kids who ask what this or that means, and he explains it to them," Ahtisaari told French newspaper Le Monde shortly thereafter.
Ahtisaari, who served as Finnish president from 1994 to 2000, has for decades been called upon by the international community to resolve conflicts.
His name is often mentioned in the same breath as other Nordic peace advocates such as Raoul Wallenberg of Sweden, who saved thousands of Jews from the Nazis during World War II, the first secretary general of the United Nations Trygve Lie of Norway, and Lie's successor Dag Hammarskjoeld of Sweden.
"Peace cannot be brokered by a person who has a need to promote himself. Job satisfaction must be found not in the praise of outside parties but in something else. These things are not ego trips," the peace-broker said recently.
The heavyset diplomat was born on June 23, 1937 in Vyborg, the capital of Karelia, a province Finland was forced to cede to the Soviet Union following World War II.
Along with 400,000 other Finns, he and his family were forced to flee the city ahead of advancing Soviet troops, and were never able to return.
He went on to work as a teacher in Pakistan for three years in the 1960s before kicking off his diplomatic career.
In 1973, he was appointed ambassador to Tanzania, before joining the United Nations in 1976.
Except for a six-year interlude when he served as president of Finland, Ahtisaari has remained with the world body since, spending most of his career outside his native Finland.
He is perhaps best known for his mediation efforts in Namibia, where he served as UN commissioner from 1977 to 1981 and guided the country down the path to its 1990 independence from South Africa as the UN special representative.
In 1987, then UN secretary general Javier Perez de Cuellar named the Finn the UN undersecretary general for administration and management, a post he held until 1991.
Since leaving the office of Finnish president in 2000, Ahtisaari has repeatedly been called upon by the international community, including to oversee the disarmament of the Irish Republican Army and to lead a fact-finding team investigating the razing by Israeli troops of the Palestinian refugee camp Jenin.
Most recently, the Finn this year mediated a peace deal between the Indonesian government and rebels from Aceh province, whose 30-year armed conflict has claimed the lives of about 15,000 people.
Ahtisaari, who is married and the father of one son, now heads the Crisis Management Initiative, a non-governmental organization he created and which recently chaired the Aceh peace talks.